From the Beau Bryant archives:
Anthropometry (Greek anthropos – “man”) and (metron – “measure”) “Measurement of Man”
In a previous life I may have spent some time working as an interrogator in Iraq. It was fun, I enjoyed it and I was pretty good at it. I often was asked to handle the more “difficult” subjects, apparently because I had a knack at getting someone to speak with me. I’m not sure that any amount of training could prepare you for it. I think success depended more on your observational skills and attention to detail than anything taught in a classroom. I spent probably 8-10 hours a day in an interrogation booth practicing and refining my skills. Amazingly enough, outside of that booth I did not practice my trade. It’s pretty tiring to stay focused on people’s verbal language, body language, behavior and tone while simultaneously listening to and formulating new questions and leading them down the road you need them on. I’m a pretty quiet person in social settings, always have been. I would much rather do more listening than talking. You learn more that way.
The world of being a strength coach and the interrogation world have more in common than one would think. I do much of the same thing minus the yelling. No, wait, I do yell. OK, minus the intimidation. My coaching style is yelling without intimidation. I observe, listen, formulate a plan and then help lead the athlete down the road toward their goal. The listening, plan formulating (programming) and helping lead the athlete down a path are pretty straight forward. You can read about programming for the next 20 years and still have more to read. Most of it works and success has been had a million different ways. I leave the programming stuff for others to write about. The one thing many coaches and even athletes miss is observation. Observation happens immediately when I begin training a new athlete. It’s the first thing I do when you walk in the door. I observe. Specifically, I observe your anthropometry. It tells me most of what I need to know about teaching you to squat, pull or press. I have even joked that I’m looking at your deformities. I’m looking at your Barney Rubble torso and legs or your Olive Oil likeness and everything in between.
An article floated around social media not long ago that got me thinking about all this anthropometry stuff. I’ll save you the details but it was an article that explained why people look differently when they squat. The “measurement of man” is such a part of what we do every day at WS&C that it didn’t occur to me why this article was being shared around the interwebz so fast. To most, it seemed like it was a totally new concept and many of these were coaches that work with athletes every day. At first I didn’t understand how people were so amazed that we all have different anthropometry and that these differences affect how the barbell lifts look. I mean, we all understand that some of us have size 13 feet and some have size 8 right? We do understand that some have long legs and some have short legs? Correct? Levis understood these concepts 150 years or so ago, so I assume that this is not ground breaking stuff to most of us in the strength field. Then it hit me. We all understand the differences in anthropometry between us, but many, including those that coach basic barbell lifts do not understand how those differences affect the barbell lifts or how to apply it to different people
In the next few weeks after the article, I read a few more things posted on social media and even saw coaching that further confirmed my thoughts. There are a bunch of coaches and athletes who do not understand how to apply anthropometric analysis to lifts. If they did, I wouldn’t see things like “never let your knees pass your toes” in reference to squatting or “do not let your upper body lean or fall forward” also in reference to the squat. I would not hear them trying to get a lifter into a position they are simply not capable of getting into and still keeping the barbell over the middle of the foot. Not to pick on anyone here because I’m pretty sure some of these writings were not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the squat but they were informational postings, seemingly, to educate. If you read these things and tried to apply them you may be set up for failure. Your anthropometry may require you to “let your upper body lean forward” in order to follow the “do not let your knees pass your toes”.
I’m not going to get into a crazy, in-depth analysis of the squat here. Many people like Mark Rippetoe have already done that and if it interests you then you can order the book, Starting Strength Basic Barbell Training 3rd Ed and read it. As a Starting Strength Coach, I am required to understand this stuff beyond what is healthy for normal people and even most coaches. I guess this is partly the reason I spend a lot of time thinking about this stuff. Not to mention, our understanding of these things is why people travel a long way to have us work the kinks out of their squats, deadlifts and presses at WS&C.
What we will do is give you some practical working knowledge of how to apply your anthropometry differences and maybe that of others you are trying to help out to improve your lifts. This will also help you call bullshit when a personal trainer tells you your back is too horizontal when you deadlift. It will prevent you from coaching people into positions based on where you think their knees should be in relation to their toes and help you begin looking at diagnostic angles, body segments and bar position to understand proper positioning.
First we must understand that proper barbell technique will place the barbell directly over the middle of the foot. To keep it simple, the middle of the foot is just in front of where you would tie a bow knot on your low top shoe, or about an inch from your shin as looking down from above. Secondly, we must have a working understanding of the 3 diagnostic angles for the squat and the deadlift. They are knee angle, hip angle, and back angle. Next we have to look at the body as a series of segments. The important segments here are the trunk, thigh, and shank. The trunk is from about the base of the neck to the hip, the thigh comprises the femur, and the shank makes up the lower leg from the knee to the ankle. Lastly, we must understand that when the bar is over the middle of the foot, whether at the bottom of a squat or the start of the deadlift, ANTHROPOMETRY differences (differences in segment length) will change the diagnostic angles. For example, if I have long femurs and a long tibia (shank) but a short upper body (trunk), I will have more forward lean in the squat than someone of opposite anthropometry. Furthermore, the more you tell me to stop my torso from leaning forward, the more my knees must travel in front of my toes. Of course we can make modifications to lessen the impact such as widening the stance, but we see where this is going right? We see how coaching positions may lead us to chase our tail, right?
While comparing photos of actual femur bones turned the light bulb on for many people it really did nothing to show how these things change the actual look of the squat or the deadlift. This is what amazed me about the article. They showed that two people’s femurs looked drastically different and lots of people seemed amazed. It was as if this thought had not occurred to them before. So I’ll take it a step further.
Let’s take a look at the affect of those anthropometry differences have on an actual barbell lift so we can put this knowledge to good use. This hopefully will give you a little better understanding of how to apply this to your own training and those around you. If nothing else you can tell someone to get bent when they try to get your hips lower or higher in the deadlift.
The above photo shows a proper deadlift set up. Not to get into the model we teach to set up a proper deadlift but there are a couple things to note. Certain aspects will be universal REGARDLESS OF ANTHROPOMETRY differences between individuals. If you notice the bar is about an inch from her shin. You will need to trust me here, I set her up for the photo and even if I didn’t Lindsay is a damn fine deadlifter and set her shins an inch from the bar anyway. The second thing you will notice is her shoulders are slightly in front of the bar. This will always be the case for a couple reasons of which I will not get into here.
I have also labeled the diagnostic angles (knee, hip and back angle). Of note is that the bar in proper position over the middle of her foot has ESTABLISHED the diagnostic angles. This is important to understand. If we tried to establish proper positioning by setting what we think are proper diagnostic angles, we very well may end up changing bar position. You can see why someone telling Lindsay that her back angle is too horizontal will end up changing her bar position if they lower the hips, correct? Remember, if we change one diagnostic angle the others will also change. Lowering her hips will cause the bar to move forward of the middle of her foot in order to close the knee angle. Action, reaction.
So let’s try to artificially change the length of Lindsey’s femurs and see what affect this has on our diagnostic angles. The above photo shows the results of a slightly shorter femur on Lindsay. Notice if we keep the bar over middle foot and shoulders slightly in front of the bar her back angle will open (less horizontal).
If we lengthen the femur we see the back angle close (become more horizontal).
Hopefully these three photos of the same lifter, positioned differently, gives you an idea in your mind of what differing anthropometry may have on diagnostic angles. And just to be sure I have snapped a couple photos of lifters with drastically different anthropometry and thus, their appearance in the deadlift setup changes.
The above photo shoes someone with normal tibia length and a shorter femur with a longer back segment.
The above photo shows longer tibia length, normal femurs and an average back segment. Of note, Ashley has some pretty good levers that make her a solid squatter and a pretty good puller.
Here is a pretty good example of a longer than normal back segment and what this does to the back angle.
All of the above photos followed our model. The bar is an inch from each lifters shins on set up and the shoulders are slightly in front of the bar yet we see a couple distinctly different looking deadlift set ups.
So the next time you are at the gym, take a minute and observe. Observe the weirdness of people around you and see how that affects the diagnostic angles of their squat and deadlift or pulls from the floor. Look at their body segments and begin to work through what they would look like at the bottom of a squat or a deadlift. Take note of your own anthropometry and use that to gain better positioning on your own lifts.